Geometry Dash is a perfect microcosm of all execution-based gaming. There are almost no unnecessary distractions, the game has a clear objective and you basically always only have exactly one way to do it.
In this (not endless!) runner game the screen moves from right to left while you control a character that can – according to the whims of the level designer – jump, fly, flip gravitation, airjump or whatever else can be fit into one-button gameplay. Yes, Geometry Dash is playable with only exactly one button. I played it on a smartphone and the controls allow you to touch the screen anywhere. I could go on a tangent here how this ridiculously simple design still actively makes you consider the control choices here, but I don’t want to bloat this review too much. (ask me about it tho)
Depending on the form your character takes (which is purely determined by where in the level you are), you control character height in different ways, but you only control your character vertically, while the horizontal pace of every level is constant, and only modified by the level and not you. As a cube, you have a jump of fixed height. As a rocket, you ascend when pressing and descend when not pressing. As a ball, you have to flip gravity to roll yourself through the level. And you have to do it perfectly for each level, from start to end. If you die, you start over. The game doesn’t care if you died 98% through a 5 minute level and if you only lost because your nerves got to you. Do it again, you fucking nerd. You’re not in control at all, but you have to make the ride work anyways.
This simple concept evokes a lot of feelings for me. I have to ask myself, why is it so addicting? The game might have collectibles in each level and you gain fake “currency” for every time you progress further into a level, but neither is anything of this paid or even slightly intrustive, nor do you unlock anything but cosmetics. It’s just neat reward - it doesn’t skinner-box you, but it gives you a lot of options how you want to look for your own enjoyment. I don’t play this game to “unlock” stuff, though, not at all. The main drive of this game is that it shows you how you, as a human, can get better at something that seems impossible and it does so at an incredible pace. You might think collecting the three coins in level 6 and finishing seems impossible when you try it the first time, because, well fuck, how are you going to keep up your concentration for this long, and you can only get consistently to the 15% mark of the level – how are you supposed to do that? Thankfully the game supplies a handy practice mode that lets you fumble through levels and learn each section the way you want with checkpoints where you want them. You can retry each section on your own 50 times, and suddenly, wait, how did I finish the level after 2 hours? It seemed so impenetrable.
I know some people have defeatist feelings when they watch a veteran player utterly destroy a game that they struggle with. Older Platinum Games might have great combat, but the scoring is often wildly demoralizing to newer players, and since the learning curve there is longer than 2 hours, it makes people give up faster, when it is meant to motivate them. Geometry Dash is here to remind you that, what seems impossible, is maybe just a minor roadblock. You can get decent or even good at something extremely fast, and you’re just overestimating the task because you haven’t faced anything like it before. You learn each level and get better, the execution is in your hands and mastering each of the levels is a very own niche skill in itself. Over time, you will have to learn less and react better on the fly to more complex level structures. You not only get better at a micro-, but at a macro-level, considerably so.
Another question this game is making me ask is this one: How many games are at their core just like Geometry Dash, about pure memorization and execution skill without player expression and how do they still differ?
Geometry Dash is more varied than pure rhythm games like Osu, DDR or Guitar Hero that keep the same control scheme and functionality over literally all gameplay, which makes it harder for Geometry Dash to keep the same macro-level skills like these games do, but there is value in that. There is excitement in being absolutely flabbergasted at the challenge each time and learning to overcome it anyways. Even if it is limited, Geometry Dash can show you through its simple memorizational and executional challenge that you can also be good and learn a skill, if you go about it the right way. There is no “finding out”, there is no “trying different things”, there is no expressivity and no dynamism. There is only “do it”, and yeah, that is sometimes how life works.
The reminder that there is always a little challenge on my phone that shows me that I, in fact, can just “do it” puts me at ease.

Great Ace Attorney is a crime-solving VN where you play young Japanese man Ryunosuke Naruhodo who has been thrust by unlikely circumstances to become a lawyer in England.
The premise is ridiculous and the game successfully walks the thin line of taking itself serious at times where it's important (with big shonen anime pathos, but serious, nonetheless) and being a playful adventure around both intriguing and wacky roundabout crime-solving mysteries with courtroom drama.
One thing I should mention here is that Great Ace Attorney ventures far more into the realm of "real-world" problmes than the other games in the series, namely, racism. You would think a wacky anime game like this is ill-equipped to take on such a heavy subject matter, but it realistically depicts how people back then (and nowadays) view other people from far removed cultures. The constant allusions to Japanese people being "just weird" almost feels like an indictment towards this sentiment in our era, where it's always about those wacky Japanese people doing wacky Japanese things without any regard for their other cultural habits and customs. I highly respect that Great Ace Attorney was willing to go there, even if it always addresses the depicted racism with some form of levity and snarky remark from Ryunosuke and doesn't just make you look at it and get too uncomfortable.
Enough heavy stuff. I feel like VNs live or die mainly by presentation and writing, which are both in my opinion
a) absolutely excellent and
b) highly subjective
but I can also commend the games on its active gameplay segments:
1) Mostly linear point & click investigation segments. These are mainly structured in a way to pace the flow of information, which, admittedly, doesn't really feel like meaningful gameplay and more of a knack in supplying information in a more exciting way but that 100% isn't meant as a detriment. Tiny bits of looking around and clicking stuff to simulate investigating a crime scene goes a long way for experiencing a story that is fundamentally built on mysteries and intrigue. Being delivered all this information passively through pure VN segments would frankly be more boring and make you feel more disconnected from the mystery at hand.
2) Deduction-based gameplay:
This is where this series truly shines. Unlike the gameplay mentioned before, these segments are strictly linear, but they always face you with a conundrum that surrounds the established facts. Does anything that has been said by a witness contradict the facts? How do you explain this or that circumstance of the case? What evidence has to be looked into further to give an answer? The genius herein lies that the game (usually) has given you a lot of information at the start of each of the deduction segments, making you anticipate the points that might crop up but also blindsiding you with details that have always been there from the first place - Yes, some revelations only come with time and you will be given decisive information very late into trials, but the way everything falls into place is always a very satisfying romp and a very engaging brain-teaser. I was flabbergasted when the final case had established and hidden a crucial detail right in the first 20 minutes of the courtroom trial, and I never noticed until it became important.
The game had me beam with joy at its writing and character the deduction segments were engaging and fun, and it's all around a wonderful experience. The worst I can say about it is that it feels too much like a mid-season-finale, almost like it sets up too much for the second game and is not interested enough in explaining its own overarching mysteries, so it ends on a rather unsatisfying note in regards to that. I have to deduct points here because the game is banking on the promise of something really good coming. I do wonder if the second game will make it all pay off, and if it does, hey, I'll be very happy, but I can't give points for promises, now can I?

I love that we finally have a soulsy action game that turns your defensive options alone into a whole new category of risk/reward system that I've never quite seen before like this. Choosing between parry, soul shield, dodging and avoidance through abilities for every enemy attack while managing the break meter is the most fun I had with defense in a game period. I also love that this game finally does away with the stamina paradigm of many of its contemporaries and introduces this different kind of active resource management that feels fresh and exciting. The combat as a whole doesn't have the depth of Nioh 2's combat, but it is satisfying for many hours all the same. You can make up so many fundamentally different strategies for every challenge this game throws at you, and while that does throw balancing out of the window for some of them I would much have this breadth of choices that I can mix and match through the job system to create my own depth rather than every boss having the "adequate" difficulty. You know you made a soulslike game fun when the magic casters are a) viable and b) make you think rather than just spamming spells. Speaking of, the MP system (getting more max MP through soul shield) is also very smart, because it plays into the aforementioned strong defensive options while giving casters a strong reason to move in.
The story is a cool subversion of the classic Final Fantasy tropes, the game is a heartfelt love letter to the series in its music and visual design.
Also, there are both a banger Dubstep and a DnB remix of FF5 music on this OST, so this is an instant 5/5 stars

While playing its epilogue, P5R made me feel a profound and familiar sadness. I was sad because it was going to be over. That is the biggest compliment I could possibly give a game of its caliber. After 130 hours of playtime it was clear that this is not a game I will replay anytime soon, but that it will stay with me; And the fond memories I’ve made during this very long time will actively shape my daily thought process to some degree. In a way, it managed to make me care about it and its characters just as much as I did with (I can’t believe I’m saying this) Undertale. Compared to that game, Persona 5 Royal lacks the tongue-in-cheek humour, but it more than makes up for with its unbridled hope and its sharp rejection of any sort of cynicism or defeatism.
But, let’s talk a bit of gameplay before I get back to waxing philosophically:
The game consists of daily life and dungeon/exploration/combat segments that are fairly strictly separated, but during a chapter you can choose when exactly to tackle the currently available big dungeon.
The daily life segments are very vivid for what they are. I would love to say something really cheesy, like “You actually feel like you’re in Tokyo” but that is obviously not true, although it emulates the feeling of a big city with all your friends, and colorful shops and characters in it very well, especially given that the map sizes of the city segments are usually rather small. You will have a lot of days and evenings in the calendar during you which you can freely decide what to do. You can level up your social stats, which will usually grant you access to more confidants - people you can have a deeper relationship with - and give you other opportunities in the city. You can meet up with said confidants and intensify your relationship level. This sounds very mechanical, but it’s actually where Persona 5 Royal shines the most: Each relationship level you reach with any character has its own unique (and sometimes fairly substantial) little narrative segment during which you can react to the character, deepening your bonds by spending time with them and helping them overcome their hardships, and every character actually has an interesting story to tell.
The combat in this game is elemental-weakness-turn-based combat, so there is an inherent problem with the combat being a very crude abstraction of what an exciting battle would be like, but it handles itself rather well, given that fact. This game has two (and a half) major advantages over its peers:
1) The baton pass system. This system allows you to have an extra turn when you hit the weakness of an enemy and pass that turn on to a teammate, granting them a temporary attack boost. The smart idea here is that you can cascade this effect and doing multiple baton passes in a row increases the attack boost by so much that you can’t help yourself taking a small break to think about how you will absolutely decimate the enemies optimally. Big numbers are fun in this game, because it actually made you think for a bit. It introduces a dynamic puzzle element into turn-based combat, and I wish more games tried to have a fresh take like this on the turn-based formula.
2) The combat systems actually interact really well with the daily life segments of the game. By leveling up your relationship level with your confidants, you gain abilities for combat and exploration, and most of these abilities feel like meaningful upgrades to your repertoire. This intersection makes it so you can’t wait to try your newly unlocked ability in the dungeon, and the game smartly balances these abilities so they neither feel overpowered nor underwhelming – for the most part.
2.5) You will unlock the ability to defeat weaker enemies without actually having to play through the fights, while still gaining all experience and gold. This drastically cuts the time spent in far too easy (and hence boring) combat encounters, and it’s a huge quality-of-life improvement that not many other RPGs have.
Finally, let’s talk about the exploration. I have to admit that this is where Persona Royal fumbles a bit. While I find it great to not wander through randomly generated boring looking tilesets like in Persona 3 and 4, Persona 5 Royal has its own problems. The game constantly handholds you while exploring the (admittedly impressive-looking) dungeons, and except for the last few, it will almost always tell you puzzle solutions verbatim. It feels like the puzzles aren’t meant to be puzzles for you, the player, but for the characters in your group. You’re just there alongside with them, waiting for the penny to finally drop - and then you still have to implement the solution afterwards. Naturally, you will most likely feel aggravated, because the dungeons do have potential that is just never fulfilled. One positive thing I can say it that they work reasonably well in a narrative sense, and that each dungeon has its own arc and revelations, which helps the overall feeling of the game that everything is well thought-out in that regard.
Even in its weakest points, Persona 5 Royal still shines in conveying its story and most importantly, its themes. I have rarely seen a game with a script this gargantuan that truly justifies itself, but I can’t point at many scenes that feel like they were entirely there to pad things out in old-school JRPG style. Every character in the main cast goes through their own fulfilling arc, every segment feels like it explores some facet of the overall messages the game wants to convey, and as a whole Persona 5 Royals narrative and thematic beats come together like a very well-crafted puzzle. Everything becomes about hope and overcoming adversity, about feeling like a outcast and still doing right by others. Persona 5 Royal asks the fundamental question if this world is worth saving despite all the terrible things mankind is capable of and it answers it with such a loud and resounding “yes” that even the cynic in me just utterly crumbles before it.
To make me not just roll my eyes at this very corny view of the world is worth a lot to me, because truly feeling like a hopeful little kid again is a commodity that becomes rarer the older you get – and it’s always a relief to see that some piece of media will be there to recapture that magic wholeheartedly, uncynically and without making you groan. I am thankful for the people that still create art that has genuine messages without some sort of triple-layered ironic metacommentary on something. I love this game and what it tries to tell the world, and it taught me that I maybe just shouldn’t care if that sounds too corny

Unsighted is probably the best game of 2021 that you haven’t heard of. Where other games like it would be content to deliver a very carefully crafted and strongly guided experience to the player and leave lot of people satisfied, Unsighted opts to do the unthinkable: It just lets loose.
This top-down action game see you explore a world, beat up some enemies, solve some light puzzles and find ways to travel to your destination, not unlike Zelda. After a short prologue that shows you the ropes of combat and sets up the narrative and world, you find yourself in an overworld where an NPC marks the five McGuffins you have to find on the map. And then you can just do whatever you want. Yes, absolutely whatever you want. After I collected the first traversal item (a pair of high jump boots), I was apprehensive and thought the game might lead me through a predetermined sequence of events, just taking me along for the ride while actually orchestrating everything itself.
Stubborn as I am, I looked at my options and set out, determined to do the last dungeon first and to fall on my face in that endeavour. I did not. While the game would not let me just waltz right into the hardest dungeon, I just happened to stumble upon an item which let me traverse the overworld map in ways that clearly skipped the normal sequence of events, but the game did not do so begrudgingly, it openly handed me this weapon with a wink and told me to wreak havoc. This was the moment I knew I was in for something special. Instead of just heading to each dungeon, I largely explored the overworld map and I was thoroughly fascinated with the fact that I was very clearly just circumventing all the Zelda-esque traversal puzzles with my new-found weapon.
While there is a clear intended progression order and reliance on some dungeon items, it is also almost always possible to circumvent any given traversal block with some path you haven’t found yet. There are always multiple paths to your destination, and you probably can take half of them. But the true genius of Unsighted lies not only in the map design or the availability of items that let you just skip things, no. The game even has hidden movement techniques that let you further skip puzzles and obstacles in the overworld. At this point, a comparison to Super Metroid is inevitable: Yes, these optional movement techniques have the same versatility and sense of discovery that a shinespark and a walljump in that game grant you. A comparison between these games ends up making Unsighted see eye to eye with the search action juggernaut - that is a highly impressive feat in itself. You can legitimately play this game and explore its dungeons like you would for one of the classic Zelda games if you follow the intended progression sequence, but you can also play it like me and just blow caution to the wind. I am impressed how well the game manages to deliver on both of these types experiences, depending on which you opt for.
Another feature immensely helping the game’s openness on replays is the crafting system. While anybody who has played any video games in the last 10 years will probably just roll their eyes at this particular phrase, Unsighted surprises with another great idea: What if you could, on future playthroughs, just craft the dungeon items? This game does the unthinkable and lets you – as far as I know – craft almost all weapons and items at the crafting table, and that includes the dungeon items that are used for traversal. You just need to know the recipe. Not only does this mean that you could access the whole map from the start if you wanted to, it also means that you can make a choice on future replays. Do you want to abuse the crafting system or do you want to have another exploratory playthrough? Almost every facet of this game facilitates its openness, and that isn’t even going into how keys and key doors are designed and placed in this game, which gives you another layer of choice for your traversal of the map.
The combat in this game plays like a mix between Dark Souls and Hyper Light Drifter. You can do melee attacks or shoot with a gun. The weapons all have different attributes, and there are a multitude of viable strategies to approach combat. The equivalent of the estus flask, the syringe, fills up when you hit enemies. You have a stamina meter and you can dodge or block/parry enemy attacks. You can also equip “chips” that increase different attributes like number of bullets or weapon strength, as well as some with more specific effects, like a chip that makes the syringe fills slowly on its own. Weapon and chip choice leads to a lot of customizability and this customizability is what makes combat (theoretically) very satisfying and varied. My main strategy was to equip a machine gun and an axe so I could stunlock enemies with the gun while selectively doing big damage. One of the main problems here is that for stronger enemies parry and countering is such a disproportionally easier and quicker strategy than everything else, that the game turns into parry fishing on many of the bosses and mini-bosses - the parry counter also results in your stamina recharging and syringes being filled quicker than with normal attacks, making it an even better option. It’s a shame too, because only 2 of the bosses don’t let you fish more parries much, and that showed me what exhilarating combat the game is capable of when you don’t feel the need to parry everything to do any sort of substantial damage. I would have preferred a system where the moment-to-moment combat with normal attacks was the focus while making the parry feel more like an optional mechanic.
The last large facet of the game is the timer system. This game not only has a timer for your exploration, but for every NPC, so if you bumble about for too long in your adventure or just die too often to the enemies and bosses, you will be left with a barren world without shops or people to talk to. Even your small Navi-like companion can die after some time. The only way to alleviate this is to give these people (or yourself) the meteor dust that has been distributed in copious amounts across the map. If you extend an NPCs life three times they will give you a special item that fits their function and character. This can range from gaining new chips to acquiring things like a portable forge that lets you upgrade weapons anywhere as long as you have the money. The timer system does make exploration more stressful, but also more rewarding. The meteor dust is really hidden everywhere, and you will likely not feel helpless in the face of the time limit (even if I lost 3 NPCs to this system). On the difficulty I played – normal – the timer was just generous enough, considering how often I died and how many detours I made.
Other than my single qualm about the parry in combat, Unsighted’s gameplay comes together beautifully, and additionally to the great gameplay, it is also just visually stunning and the soundtrack is a treat, setting the mood for intrigue and action during exploration and combat segments. The all-female main cast is also inherently a big plus, because you just don’t see it very often in this medium.
This review has gone on for long enough, and what else can I even say? This game can measure up in all regards to explorative titans like Super Metroid. It is just as replayable, speedrunnable and enjoyable in all modes of play. If you like exploration in games, you will very likely love this game, and it’s a unique blend of different genres that will make me remember it fondly and replay it just as often as I do with my other favorite search action games.

This game is weird. Weird in all departments. While the first game was content being a retro-platformer heavily inspired by Castlevania 3 with a hint of Ninja Gaiden, this game feels more like its own beast with Castlevania 3 just being a very distant memory. I don't want to draw too many comparisons between the two games in the series, but there is a noticable difference in level design and enemy placement philosophy.
Your first playthrough sees you start only with Zangetsu, who is supposed to be the standard character without any special abilities. He can jump in one specific arc and attack. As you would expect. As the game progresses, you unlock further characters with considerably different movement and attack options, some of them being a weird fit for a game that is ostensibly supposed to remind you of the classic Castlevanias. The second Character, Dominique is already very unconventional for the genre with her multidirectional attacks, her attack pogo move and her sub-weapons that can revive or heal party members. The third character, Robert, provides you with a hitscan normal gun attack (unlimited distance, no less), a walljump and a very low crawl. The fourth character, Hachi (a corgi in a Magitek Armor) has a generous hover ability and a sub-weapon that lets you be invulnerable for a considerable amount of time.
Needless to say, all of this breaks the rules of classic Castlevania wide open. Paired with the fact that every level has multiple ways to go through it depending on how you utilize the characters abilities, it seems fairly easy to beat, and quite honestly, it is. If you’re looking for very hard retro challenge, you should look elsewhere. What this game does provide in droves is replayability. Level and room design seem to be less rigid than in classic castlevanias, but it makes sense when you think about it in terms of the new characters. Why should you craft very specific challenges if you also just hand the player abilities that break them easily? The great classic Castlevanias were usually designed with only one or two characters in mind, but this game accomodates the constant switching by throwing a lot of different things at you that you can solve with a lot of different approaches, and it’s commendable that the game gives you that freedom. The biggest problem is that – at first – it feels underwhelming and like you’re cheesing everything, but I learned to love that about the game on the many repeat playthroughs the game incentivizes you to do. There even are story reasons for playing through the game 5(!) or more times, but considering that every level has at least 2 routes, the experience stays equally fresh and familiar with each time.
The game also becomes noticably harder from the second campaign on, even going so far as giving the bosses way more health and (effectively) turning every single attack into an “EX” version of itself. The freedom and looseness present in level design surprisingly also translates to the bosses, and even the more rigid ones have a few ways to approach them smartly. A good example is the first boss: A Dragon. This boss in the first campaign is as standard as a big Castlevania boss can be, you have to avoid its 2 attacks and can only hit it when its mouth it open. Considering that you only have Zangetsu at this point, it is a very rigid experience, and even the sub-weapons can not really make you shake that feeling. Fast forward to the second playthrough, where you start with multiple characters and your options open up immensely. Hachi’s attack is slower but can hit the dragon when its mouth is closed. You can selectively use Hachi’s invulnerability at specific points in the fight to ignore the bosses big beam attack and just bloody punch him during it the whole time. You can shoot the boss with Robert at points where you couldn’t before, and you can of course now choose between multiple sub-weapons for multiple characters to play around with and see which one you can use at specific points in the fight. It’s exhilarating to find these options out and to see what you can get away with.
I can see myself playing through this game again and again and discovering new level and boss strategies for a long time, and the thought of challenging myself by setting up constraints like only using one character or not using sub weapons has also crossed my mind. The fact that I have these thoughts and actively look forward to replaying this game again after having done so 5 times already is a testament to the new design philosophy working out, and I highly recommend that if you ever play this game and feel like there’s a spark there, you should stick with it and see how it can surprise you with its freedoms.

Atelier Ryza is pretty high on the upper end of mediocre RPGs, despite only having one interesting system in the game in its alchemy system. The advantage it has though, is that this one system is fleshed out so much that the rest of the game does not really matter much, and as it leaves many options for the player to approach the challenges the game poses.
The story is barely worth mentioning, and the characters and their motivations are basically walking cliches, but it at least doesn’t pretend to be an epic about saving the world, and it does generally convey the relaxedness you feel when playing the game. The combat is also lackluster in all its aspects, as even superficial things like skill animations and damage numbers do not feel satisfying for the first time you see them, but it at least gets the job done of posing as a genuine skill check for whether your know how to use the alchemy system. You can’t just steamroll the enemies by fighting in many random encounters and expecting the leveling to do, well, anything, really, because the stat increases you gain are negligible compared to the equipment you build. This is a good thing, because this means that Atelier Ryza can not really make you grind mindlessly.
While many other middle-budget RPGs would be content to browbeat you either into fighting the same enemy formations 50 times or to make everything so easy that nothing really matters, Atelier Ryza derives its satisfaction from you discovering and remembering where you got which material to synthesize what item, and it excels at making you feel excited for a material that the alchemy list showed you is necessary for the bomb with the biggest boom. (I played the game on hard and I would recommend anyone to do the same, because it seems to be the only difficulty where anything can realistically pose a threat to your party.)
Even if you started from scratch to gather these materials, Atelier Ryza has made 3 very smart moves in the process to not make this feel tedious:
a) There are no super-rare materials at gathering points or from enemies, and the drop chances are all so high that – stochastically speaking – you will not get frustrated by a material not appearing.
b) The game lets you fast travel anywhere at any time, which makes the material gathering a fairly short and sweet affair, that builds tension for only 5-10 minutes until you can build that item or equipment you wanted and finally go and explode some enemies.
c) After a certain point in the game, it lets you multiply materials and equipment you synthesized, so if you have made a really good armor or materials to synthesize a weapon, you can just multiply these for your party members and generally don’t have to repeat synthesize much from this point on.
This all leads to Atelier Ryza having the feeling of a really solid incremental game that gives you enough choices to impact how fast and in what way the numbers go up. This might sound like a backhanded compliment, but it isn’t. I imagine it would have been easy to make this kind of game feel tedious and grindy, but instead Atelier Ryza feels… relaxing. It rarely annoyed me, it never browbeat me into 3-hour grinds just to be able to continue, and it was very up-front from almost the very beginning what kind of game it was. I appreciate this upfrontness. I could put it on when I just wanted to have a very chill evening playing a game. It’s trying to be comfort food, and it’s pretty good at it.